I have a novel coming out in July of this year. My publishers asked me if I knew a few authors who would be willing to give a blurb to help promote the book
I know a few authors. I attend workshops, a writer’s group, and every literary event in my vicinity that I can. I’ll stand in line for an hour to exchange a few words with someone whose books have meant something to me.
(My students have suggested I am overzealous in my admiration of authors. To that I say, I am always respectful of boundaries and if anyone minds my fangirly blog posts and nine million-star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, no one has complained to me.)
All of this is not to say that I wasn’t terrified to ask authors if they would please read my book and blurb it if they liked it. Butterflies flew out of my nose. I felt embarrassed, presumptuous, exposed. I hate asking for a favor from even my closest friends. How dare I ask these brilliant, extremely busy professionals to pass me a pencil, let alone devote time to read and perhaps even like and blurb my book?!
I did it anyway.
I asked seven of my favorite authors to blurb The Ghost Daughter. I thought I was going to die of shyness and awkwardness but I didn’t die. I sent the messages. Then I waited.
Two authors declined in such respectful, loving ways that I came away learning a lot about integrity and kindness and the importance of an artist to protect his or her time.
But five out of the seven said yes. It was too much. I was proud of the book. I wasn’t nervous about sharing my work. I was nervous because I had asked for a favor and people said yes.
I like to be the one to give favors. I don’t keep track or expect anything in return. I just like to be the one in the power position. Switching that energy to receive such an enormous gift from five people whose work means so much to me was very uncomfortable.
The blurbs came in like a dream, so complimentary and beautifully written. With each one, I was left to say, simply thank you. Because there is nothing I can do in return that will balance the scales between us. To get public confirmation of my work from the likes of these artists at this point in my career is impossible for me to repay. I have to just say thank you the best I can and get on with it.
One aspect of this recent experience is that I understand more why my students get so riled up over asking me for a letter of recommendation for college or a job. It’s hard to ask for a person’s time and energy. It takes a certain kind of courage.
How did I have the courage? My parents always taught me to ask boys on dates when I was a teenager. They didn’t have any patience with the old wait-by-the-phone scenario. When proms came up, they expected me to ask the best boy I knew for myself. (Note: The best boys I knew were not quarterbacks in the literal sense of the word, but rather in the metaphorical sense. I like the blog post title and I’m sticking with it, okay?)
The courage to ask authors for blurbs came from the same place as the gumption that made me okay with asking out a guy. He may say no, but whatever. I’m asking. It feels awful and scary and crazy but whatever. I’m asking.
In my literary life most of the great things that have happened have come about because I dare to ask the best people I know to hang out with my stories and they, miraculously, sometimes say yes.
My advice to me: Ask the quarterback to the prom. Whatever.
Where in your life do you need support but aren’t getting it? Where could you go for that support and help? Play an imagination game. Who would you get to help you if you could? Who would be the best possible people for the job of helping you?
List the master classes you would take if you could. For example, writing short fiction with Karen E. Bender, or the art of the novel with Christian Kiefer. (Cooking with Ina Garten? Basketball skills with Stephen Curry?)
List the ways you go above and beyond for others in your life. Once you begin this exercise, you will see how many people you help on a daily basis. How do you pay forward the gifts and favors that have been given to you?